Remembering John P. Schlegel, S.J.

Former USF President

Photo by Mike Spinelli.

John P. Schlegel, S.J., who served as USF’s president from 1991 until the turn of the century, died peacefully Nov. 15 in Omaha, Neb. after a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 72.

As president, Fr. Schlegel grew USF and improved its finances. By the fall of 2000, enrollment had increased 7.5 percent to 7,366 students, the endowment more than tripled to $149 million, and student financial aid increased nearly 200 percent.

“Fr. Schlegel was the right person at the right time in USF’s history,” said John Koeplin, S.J., rector of the Loyola House Jesuit community. “With faculty, staff, and students, he stressed professionalism in our management of the university’s opportunities and challenges in the 1990s.”

Fr. Schlegel also launched the most ambitious — and successful — fundraising campaign in USF history at that time. Building a Bold Tomorrow raised $92 million, far exceeding its $75 million goal, allowing USF to build the Geschke Learning Resource Center, the Dorraine Zief Law Library, and the Tuscan-style residence for Jesuits on Lone Mountain. The campaign also funded new academic programs and student scholarships, and renovations in four residence halls — Gillson, Phelan, Lone Mountain, and Hayes-Healy. 

“John accomplished a lot for the university. He was brilliant, strong, and gave of himself to the university, the Society of Jesus, and to many in the USF community,” said Lou Giraudo, who chaired the USF Board of Trustees during Fr. Schlegel’s administration.

Three months into his presidency, Fr. Schlegel launched one of his key initiatives, the Multicultural Action Plan. By the end of his presidency, the percentage of students from ethnically diverse backgrounds had jumped to 45 percent from 35 percent.

You can see his commitment to multicultural and interfaith understanding in the 1997 book Building Wisdom’s House, which he co-authored with William Swing, then the Episcopal Bishop of California; Stephen Pearce, then senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco; and Bonnie Kahn, a San Francisco writer and sociologist.

One of Fr. Schlegel’s great passions was landscaping, and he initiated a host of projects to enhance USF’s natural beauty. The line of majestic palm trees atop Lone Mountain is a visible legacy.

After leaving USF, Fr. Schlegel served as president of Creighton University for 11 years. That’s also where he started his career in higher education, teaching political science, almost 30 years earlier.